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Viewpoint: Delaware Senate is advancing legislation to lift up working families

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Delaware’s Legislative Hall | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

By Sens. David Sokola, Bryan Townsend and Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman

Over the last year, Delawareans have been tested like never before.

The pandemic has cost us lives and livelihoods. It’s kept us from our loved ones, ravaged our economy, and laid bare deep-rooted fault lines across our society.

In a state of neighbors like ours, difficult times should not lead to dire outcomes. That’s why, as leaders of the Delaware State Senate, we are meeting this moment by pursuing policies to strengthen our economy and chart a path of recovery and progress for Delaware’s working families.

That means making sure essential workers are treated as such. It means investing in healthy outcomes for Delaware families. And, it means expanding job-training opportunities for adult students with an eye toward the economy of the future.

Perhaps no bill being considered by the 151st General Assembly will have as profound an impact on quality of life in our state as legislation establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program for Delaware workers.

In Delaware, nearly 60% of workers can’t even access unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. That means every year, thousands of our neighbors face the impossible choice of showing up for work, or losing their paycheck to care for a sick loved one or even themselves. With 1 in 10 Delawareans suffering from COVID-19 over the past 13 months, far too many have been forced to forego their income in the face of illness.

Slated to be filed by Senator Sarah McBride, Senate Bill 1 would ensure workers no longer will be forced to choose between their job and their family. SB 1 would give Delawareans up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a year for a qualifying event, such as addressing a serious illness, welcoming a new child, or helping a household adjust to a recent military deployment.

In addition to helping families, SB 1 will help level the playing field for small businesses, which often have to compete with benefits packages of larger employers. Many small businesses will be able to provide the new benefit to their employees at no cost, while larger companies can cover a worker for as little as a cup of coffee per week, while saving administrative costs by reducing employee turnover.

Joining the ranks of states that offer paid family leave to its workforce would be transformational for Delawareans, as would other policies we’re prioritizing as we emerge from this pandemic.

That includes refocusing Delaware’s healthcare system on primary care, so that Delawareans can stay healthier without them or their employers having to pay more and more to treat preventable health problems.

Senate Bill 120, which we are sponsoring, will require higher levels of investment in primary care and put reasonable limits on price increases for other services that currently are driving up consumer costs.  Importantly, rather than paying providers based on the quantity of treatments provided, this legislation will incentivize our health care industry to focus on quality and value of care.

While we’re focusing on healthy outcomes for working families, we’re also committed to doing all we can to lift Delawareans out of poverty.

In March, all 14 Senate Democrats voted to raise Delaware’s minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025. Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Senator Jack Walsh, will lift thousands of Delawareans out of poverty by ensuring that any Delawarean who puts in 40 hours a week is earning a living wage.

Finally, while we’re insisting on fair wages, we’re also advancing legislation that will help retool our state’s workforce for the post-pandemic economy by providing hundreds of Delawareans with the skills for new careers in high-demand fields.

Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Senator Nicole Poore, expands Delaware Technical Community College’s landmark scholarship program to adults seeking a career change and others previously excluded from the Student Excellence Equals Degree program, or SEED.

Senator Poore’s SEED+ bill would allow hundreds of additional Delawareans to gain new skills through either Delaware Tech’s workforce development programs or its academic credential courses, nearly all of which are transferable to Delaware’s four-year colleges and universities. SEED+ is specifically designed to assist adult workers with little or no previous higher education experience – the segment of our workforce hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic.

The enduring images of this pandemic will be the hourly wage-worker who showed up for shift after shift to keep our grocery store shelves stocked, the delivery driver who ensured our medications and other necessities arrived on time, and the caretakers and home health care workers who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our loved ones safe and healthy.

We owe them more than just our gratitude. We owe them dignity, respect, compassion, and a path to prosperity.

Sen. Dave Sokola is the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate. Sen. Bryan Townsend is the Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman is the Senate Majority Whip.


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